10 August 2003

Brough Scott sees Great Britain and Ireland slump to an unexpected 146-98 defeat in the Shergar Cup

The Shergar Cup team competition between Great Britain and Ireland and the Rest of the World is a brilliant day on the right date in the right place, but with the wrong idea: correct that, with the right idea the wrong way round.

Its success, unique among big racing events, is to treat jockeys rather than horses as its stars. Its failure is that it tries to put jockeys, those most individual of sportsmen, into a team format at the same time as specifically banning team tactics.Those are the negatives to which we must return. The positives are that Ascot and sponsors Blue Square have combined with enthusiastic BBC coverage to attract a whole new audience anxious to try out the fun.

And fun there was for more than 20,000 sun-baked racegoers. A midday sports masterclass for football and rugby kids supervised by David Platt and Andy Robinson had even the latter admitting that he had to temper his usual sadism for the occasion.

There was a jockeys’ autograph session, trip to the start, the best and most inviting racecard ever – except for the uncalled for dropping of the record times for each event – and a concert with ex-Spice Girl Mel C.

The rules of the day meant that the Great Britain and Ireland team had to sport not just red caps but red breeches which were of such a heat-absorbing colour and thickness that Kevin Darley complained of having sweat sloshing around in his boots.

Of course this is the silly season – all national papers carried that “cloned horse shocks racing” nonsense last week – and the tone was set by the authorities who opened up proceedings by reading out to the riders the splendidly oxymoronic statement: “Although this meeting is run along the lines of a team competition, jockeys must ride under the rules of racing and (sic) team tactics will not be tolerated in any shape or form.”

This seemed to have been forgotten by the commentator in the first race who spoke of Pat Eddery playing “a good captain’s role” in the opening stages and Frankie Dettori doing the donkey work for the Rest of the World before his team-mate, Doug Whyte, and Pentecost got home in front of Andreas Suborics on Her Majesty’s Green Line, so preventing a surely unique moment of the champion of Germany riding a winner for the Queen of England on the Royal turf.

Doug Whyte, five times a champion in his native South Africa and now topping the list in Hong Kong, doubled up in the last race on Move It and then offered the hope that he might one day emulate his team selector and countryman Michael Roberts by becoming champion over here. Tall and elegant and a mature 31, he has a certain style about him, but while his 36 points were an impressive addition to his team’s 146-98 victory over the odds-on favourites, his own aggregate fell seven short of the ever remarkable Kieren Fallon, who took the Silver Saddle individual trophy.

Victories for Fallon on Kinnaird in the two-year-old race and Shabernak in the two-miler were followed by a determined, if much impeded, second in the fifth race which saw Fredrik Johansson get a token one-day sentence for impeding the local hero. The Swedish ace, whose road to Ascot began as a pony race rider at the splendidly named Jagersro track back in the land of the fiords, logged up a healthy 29 points. The effectiveness of these six races as a truthful test of jockey merit must be queried, though, when Darley and Dettori can only muster five points (one fourth place) each and multiple Classic winner Johnny Murtagh logged three for his one fifth placing.

Ascot, Blue Square and the BBC should be congratulated for establishing a unique date in the racing calendar and to draw together a truly world-class set of jockeys. With six full races to play with it really should not be that difficult to construct a loading of the draw that would put every one to the test and avoid too much dependence on the fantasy of the team contest.

But maybe we have it wrong. “I am gutted,” said home team selector Jason Weaver. “It’s as simple as that. I did my best to get Frankie’s boys plastered last night, but they have still beaten us.” In vino veritas?

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